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Traveling a Rocky road to Hall of Fame

(Reprinted from Dec. 10, 2010)

  Rocky Marciano, Rocky Graziano, Rocky Balboa.
  One retired an undefeated heavyweight champion, one spent some time as a middleweight champion before eventually becoming an actor and one was a box-office champion who was never anything but an actor. And all three are now in boxing’s Hall of Fame.
  Marciano and Graziano, a winner of 67 fights during his career, receiving their sport’s highest honor is understandable. Placing Rocky Balboa — or, more accurately, his creator — there is a bit more mind-boggling.
  But that’s what happened last week when actor Sylvester Stallone was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum at the same time as real-life boxers Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez. To his credit, Stallone was properly respectful about his unexpected prize, saying in a statement that it was his “privilege to have been blessed with the ability to write about the incredible courage and commitment of the many thousands of real-life Rockys whom we have watched perform honorably in the ring.”
  Truth be known, most Rockys never do all that much within the squared circle. For example Chuck Wepner, the fighter on whom the Rocky character is supposedly based, served as a punching bag for Muhammad Ali in a 1975 bout.

  It was Wepner’s biggest payday and gained him recognition well beyond anything he’d garnered before that, but there was no miracle comeback against The Greatest or eventual world title in store for him. Nor are such things scripted for other journeymen within the sport.
  Rocky Balboa, though, beat Apollo Creed, Apollo 13, Clubber Lang, KD Lang, Ivan Drago, Ivan The Terrible, Mason Dixon, Perry Mason, Tommy Gunn, Peter Gunn, Peter Marshall, E.G. Marshall, Penny Marshall, Penny Singleton and anyone else who happened to pop into Mr. Stallone’s vivid imagination at a given moment. And during those fights, he was fired upon more often than Bambi’s family when they wandered too close to a batch of Jed Clampett wannabes after the gun-toters had downed a couple jugs’ worth of Granny’s homemade moonshine.
  But miraculously, Rocky withstood all the blows well enough to always win in the end. Personally, I think that says more about Burgess Meredith’s abilities as a trainer than anything else, but maybe I’m wrong.
  What I’m not wrong about, though, is how silly this Hall of Fame thing is. Yes, the “Rocky” movies were hugely popular, and admittedly some of them were quite entertaining in a cinematic sense.
  But let’s not forget that’s what they were — movies. While they brought attention to a sport that has often resided outside the general public’s consciousness except when guys like Ali or Tyson ruled the ring, is that alone sufficient reason to put Stallone into the Hall of Fame alongside guys who invested actual sweat and blood equity?
  If so, then let’s not stop there. There are other deserving parties who should ascend into various sports pantheons.
  • Cal Hubbard is currently the only man inducted into two professional Halls of Fame (baseball and football), but there should be room for Herman Munster to be enshrined in those two, plus basketball’s. Remember, he hit Leo Durocher with a batted baseball from eight blocks away, beaned Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch in the head with a football punted from that same distance and was seen dunking a basketball several times while wearing Frankensteinian boots, something no NBA center would dare attempt.
  • His frequent movie co-star Robert Redford was “The Natural,” but Paul Newman is the guy who’s a natural for the Billiards Hall of Fame. After all, he beat Jackie Gleason in “The Hustler” while Gleason was portraying a character that closely resembled the famed Minnesota Fats. Gleason, too, might deserve entry into boxing’s Hall in recognition of his one-punch knockout of a bully named Harvey in an episode of “The Honeymooners.”
  • Certainly, the College Football Hall of Fame has room for Hayden Fox, who turned the Minnesota State Screaming Eagles from a laughingstock into a bowl qualifier. Sure, some other coaches have guided schools upward, but it’s a safe bet none of those had to do so with guys like Luther Van Dam and Michael Dybinski on the coaching staff.
  • Jim Rockford should be given strong consideration for a spot in the Auto Racing Hall of Fame. The Malibu, Calif.-based private eye didn’t spend time maneuvering his way around an oval track, but he was quite proficient at driving around in circles as he frequently attempted to elude either police or assorted southern California bad guys. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson never had to overcome obstacles like that.
  • How about induction into the Track and Field Hall of Fame for Dr. Richard Kimble? The wrongly convicted murderer spent four years on the run from the law, meaning he had to cover great distances, and special mention also needs to be made of his jumps, which usually were executed off a moving train as he sought to keep postponing his own execution. Even the most decorated Olympian couldn’t have done it any better.
  • If there exists an Equestrian Hall of Fame, write down Matt Dillon’s name as a new member. As is true with so many other deserving, but thus-far-unrewarded parties, the lawman possessed multiple talents. His expert riding, for example, was often done while he was brandishing a firearm and in hot pursuit of Old West evildoers.
  • The elevation of Secretariat to icon status proves there’s a place for non-human superstars in sports history, and none was bigger than Lassie. Saver of lives on a weekly basis during the 1960s and ’70s, the famed collie often had to enter bodies of water to drag helpless landlubbers to shore, doing so while executing a perfect dog-paddle. Lassie, your induction into the Swimming Hall of Fame awaits you.
  • And we absolutely can’t forget actor David Arquette, who really was a pro wrestling champion for a short time, thanks to the desperation mode World Championship Wrestling writers found themselves in when TV ratings were going down the dumper. Seeing as how Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment has since absorbed everything connected with WCW, one of Vinnie Mac’s next assignments is clear.
  As you can see, there’s virtually no end to the possibilities. Sly Stallone’s feat could — and probably should — signal the start of some bizarre entrants into the sports world’s magic kingdoms.
  But there is one good thing that comes from Stallone’s boxing honor: It’ll probably make him less apt to want to wedge his way into the Machine Gun-Wielding Mercenaries Hall of Fame.